DonDrewry wrote:Janet, are you sometimes actually feeding just hay prior to lambing? If you are do you think it would work for "average" ewes, or for ewes selected for a grass operation? I'm pretty impressed if the ewes are able to routinely be fed just forage as it's just different than I've heard or ever had the guts to try just forage for a winter lambing.
I quit feeding any grain pre-lambing about 5 or 6 years ago. We feed mediocre to medium quality grass hay mid-pregnancy (the Feb-lambing ewes come off pasture in late Nov/early Dec. about a month after breeding ends), then about 3-4 weeks before lambing is to start, I feed dairy-quality MML (alfalfa) hay (not near as much wastage with that as there is with the grass hay!).
No grain. We also haven't fed grain (nor creep fed the lambs) after lambing except for triplet-bearing ewes that get 1-1.5 lb. of corn (along with the MML hay) until turnout on pasture in early April when all grain feeding stops. All ewes with singles/twins continue to receive the MML hay only (all have free choice mineral as well).
I think I bought a total 500 lb. of corn last year for 125-130 lambing ewes (only feeding corn to the triplet moms).
We have a few sheep that 'fall out' of the system, not doing well- lower BCS, or open, or weak/slow growing lambs. They all grow wheels. That has obviously helped us select for the sheep that fit the system. But the numbers of those get fewer and fewer every year - probably 1-2/year now for general 'unthriftiness', which could be do to a number of issues.
But for the most part there haven't been any 'train wrecks'.
But we did it two ways. First, we didn't go 'cold turkey'- we slowly cut back. One thing that set us on this path (other than grain prices!) was that I noticed that many of my ewes wouldn't finish the corn. They yelled for the, and tore into it, but if they saw me putting out fresh hay, they actually preferred that to the corn and left the feed bunk. This left only a few 'piggies' cleaning up the rest of the grain, and I got worried about those piggies upsetting their rumens. So I started locking them in with the grain (and away from hay)- they just stood at the gate and bawled to go out to the hay. Then I just cut back the amount of grain so they cleaned it up. But they kept leaving some for the 'piggies'. So I thought "why fight them?"
Second, the influx of British Dorset genetics that we now have in our flock has REALLY improved the forage utilization. This isn't something I can quantify with EBVs directly, but I see it in the flock in the growth rates of the lambs (there were a couple of times I weighed the F1 British-sired weaned lambs twice (after checking my scale!) as I didn't believe the ADG on the poor forage they were on at the time). And they are deep-bodied 'gutty' sheep. Certainly not what a show judge likes to see, but I LOVE to see it as I know they have the capacity to eat enough forage and carry those lambs (we have a 185-200% drop on our mature Dorset ewes- no flushing with grain, only what happens naturally on the fall flush of grass at breeding time).
The biggest benefit has been to my blood pressure.....which might not make sense except that the farm has become SOOOO quiet since we quit feeding grain. Corn seems like an addiction to sheep (even when the ate a few bites and went back to the hay)- they YELL for it. When my car (and my car only- they KNOW my car!) pulled into the lane in the afternoon, the entire farm lit up with sheep YELLING. VERY irritating! But now when I pull in, they may 'talk' a bit to me when they're out of hay, but NOTHING like the 'Corn-Screams' they used to get. I love it!
We are just finishing our pre-lambing shearing, and the ewes are FAT (some have 'bustles of fat' on their butts) from the forage-only diet- I can't imagine what they'd look like if I were to start feeding them grain!
Now, if there were a year I couldn't get the hay quality we need, I would certainly consider grain feeding to meet their nutrient needs. But so far we haven't had to go back to grain.
On our 170-180 lb. mature Dorset ewes, twin birth weights are usually 7-9 lb. Triplets are a bit smaller (running 6-8 lb.) and singles are larger, probably running 11-13 lb. They're vigorous and jump up to find the 'spigot' quickly, which they need to do to survive the colder lambing.